At 6pm, the dusk sky is illuminated with mauve and orange. The carpark near the North Mole Lighthouse is surrounded by choppy ocean water and it’s filled with all kinds of powerful and fast street cars. Crowds of people are milling around appreciating them. Two Holdens, belonging to Trisha Meredith-Fraser and Dylan Smith, have bright orange ribbon carefully strung across their bonnets, signifying solidarity with the Cars For Hope campaign, #theorangeeffect.
In a black cardigan and white jeans, Meredith-Fraser sits in the open boot of her car taking cash donations in exchange for stickers that read ‘Cars for Hope’ in orange. “All the money – every single cent – goes straight back to the charity,” she smiles from behind black-framed glasses, her brown hair fluttering in the sea breeze.
This event seems like any other, but it isn’t. Two weeks earlier, the thought of hosting a car cruise had never crossed Meredith-Fraser’s mind. The idea only sparked after she stumbled across a social media repost of Cars For Hope’s Instagram photo. She’d heard about them before, but #theorangeeffect remained unknown to her and it was the question of who else this applied to that inspired Meredith-Fraser’s plan to spread awareness.
Cars For Hope is an Australian non-profit organisation of automotive lovers spreading awareness about mental health. March was self-injury awareness month, the campaign #theorangeeffect was part of it and the North Mole meet was on March 26.
After researching Cars For Hope further, Meredith-Fraser looked into Perth cruise pages on Facebook to see if anyone was already hosting an event for #theorangeeffect. “I’ve had my Commodore for almost two years now and I’ve always been into cars. It’s how my mum raised me. Being someone who does suffer from anxiety, depression and I have suffered from self-injury in the past too. My car has always been my escape and I know a lot of people feel the same.”
After Meredith-Fraser discovered the absence of car events advocating for Cars For Hope’s topical initiative, she jumped right into planning. “I contacted Cars for Hope to just let them know what I was doing and if they wanted to send stickers or anything to be able to sell on the night. They were really supportive.”
She posted on her Facebook feed urging car community leaders to message her about being involved in the event as she had never hosted a cruise before. The founder of Perth’s well-known car group Midnight Society, Dylan Smith, was tagged by a friend in Meredith-Fraser’s post. His attention was immediately captured. “Trish personal messaged me after I said I was keen. She’s been fantastic – she’s organised all of the social media posts which I then shared. Since I have the following, I shared it to all the people I know and to where I could and hoped to bring enough awareness for people to understand [self-injury] is a real thing and people need to be talking about it. It’s okay to talk.”
Now: at the car meet laughter smoothly erupts from Smith mid-chatter with fellow car lovers. He is tall with a dark brown beard and hair tied in a small topknot. He is joyous and impressed by the turn out of people eager to support the cause. Despite the multiple cruises Smith has previously hosted through Midnight Society, he has never hosted one with a fundraising component, but it’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time. “I don’t know too much about Cars for Hope, so I left it in Trisha’s hands, but I’d definitely love to get into doing fundraisers more often.
“Getting the awareness out there, getting the money if we can, but the money is not so important. I mean, obviously it’s an important factor, but I feel like the awareness is definitely a big factor as well. Making it known that it’s okay to talk about things, because everyone goes through all sorts of stuff.”
As a disability support worker, Smith has worked with an array of people dealing with different physical, mental and psychological disabilities. His voice is laced with passion as he expresses his focus on involving everyone and making people feel accepted: “Inclusivity is a big part of my life.”
Since buying his current car in 2015, Smith has used it in his job to give the people he works with a fun ride in the passenger seat. “When they get to go for a drive in my car, the parents say to me, ‘Your car is like a therapy car. When they come home, they’re like a whole different person.’” Smith describes his HSV as “quite a car that stands out” and explains how he wishes to spread awareness of important causes through this. “Whenever anyone sees it, I want it to be an image for change, an image for making people aware of self-harm or aware of people with disabilities.”
This year, Cars For Hope celebrates its 10 year anniversary. The founder and director of Cars For Hope, Berty Nghiem, is a vibrant and chatty person who praises Meredith-Fraser’s initiative in organising a car cruise for self-injury awareness. “That passionate group of people saw one of our campaigns that we run throughout the year and they got in touch with us and asked how they could help share our story. They kind of just went with it themselves, which is really what our charity has always been about.”
Nghiem takes a moment to reflect on the birth of the non-profit organisation following his close friend’s experience with mental illness. “Her name was Annabel and she struggled with depression, anxiety and self-injury. We were really worried about her and I wanted to remind her that she mattered, and it was important for her to stay.”
With a background in motorsport, Nghiem had an idea and alongside a group of Annabel’s friends he created the initial movement of Cars For Hope. “We put the logo that still exists today on the side of our race car at the time – a little Honda Integra Type-R – we went and raced at a motorsport event here in Sydney. We had multiple people come up to us and speak to us on the day because we had information on flyers and stickers that we were handing out. Pretty much all the competitors had one by the end of the day.”
The stickers were the perfect conversation starter and allowed Cars For Hope to evolve from a small group of car lovers with a cause to share into a registered mental health charity directing people to get the help they need. “All our staff are volunteers so none of us are trained mental health professionals, but we have links to lots of local resources right up to clinics and hospitals.
“We really want to break the stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the car community. More and more people are sharing their stories and getting the help they need and deserve. We’re always happy to direct people to where to get help. I’m the lucky person who gets to hear a lot of the good stories; people sitting in front of a councillor for the first time, people choosing to stay alive. And it’s so awesome.”
“I think a lot of people think you have to do some ridiculous kind of hero things, but you don’t have to do that, it’s really as simple as reaching out to someone and just checking in on them,” says Nghiem. “It really goes a long way when everyone does this.”
Smith also believes talking is a first step towards solving mental health conflicts. “I’ve helped a lot of friends of mine through some really hard times and I’ve always been one to say that I’m happier to hear your story than to hear it on the news. I’d prefer to hear [your] story and help where I can than find out that you’re not here anymore.”
Meredith-Fraser feels the same: “I just really want to have those conversations and break that stigma. To allow people to feel like they’re heard and to not feel that there should be pressure on them around those sorts of things. So many people, especially men, have already reached out and they’re having conversations with me and they’ve been so open and honest about their own struggles. It’s all about helping each other and I really hope we can continue to do that.”
If you’re in need of help or want to learn more about mental health, please visit https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/ or call 13 11 14.